THE BOT­TOM END

Muscle Car Review - - Con­tents -

The fol­low­ing mes­sage re­cently ap­peared in my Face­book feed for Jim Wangers and the GeeTO Tiger.

Jim was di­ag­nosed with de­men­tia, pos­si­bly Alzheimer’s dis­ease, four years ago. Up un­til this past fall, he seemed to be get­ting along pretty well. Un­for­tu­nately, this hor­ri­ble dis­ease takes no pris­on­ers, and that is no longer the case.

Jim is cur­rently liv­ing in an as­sisted liv­ing fa­cil­ity…. He is get­ting won­der­ful care, his over­all health is good (he still walks unas­sisted), and ap­pears con­tent.

I have had the honor to work for Jim for al­most 20 years, and it is hard to see this hideous dis­ease take such a toll on this great mind. Please keep him in your thoughts and prayers.

Jeanne Weiss

Of course, his fame comes from be­ing the God­fa­ther of the GTO, but there’s so much more to the man who de­voted al­most 60 years to the auto in­dus­try, car hobby, and phi­lan­thropy. A com­mon mis­con­cep­tion is that he was a de­signer or en­gi­neer at Pon­tiac; rather, his hey­day was in the ad­ver­tis­ing in­dus­try. No mat­ter what your brand al­le­giance, it’s likely you owe a debt of grat­i­tude to Jim Wangers.

Chevro­let

Wangers joined Camp­bel­lEwald as a copy­writer right when Gen­eral Mo­tors’ low­priced brand was plan­ning its 1955 cam­paign. Con­vinc­ing his su­pe­ri­ors that NASCAR’s Speed Week would be a good op­por­tu­nity to mine pos­i­tive press for the new 180-horse Power Pack fell on deaf ears. Wangers was told that “Chevro­let is not into rac­ing.” Nonethe­less, he went to Day­tona on his own dime and doc­u­mented the suc­cess of in­de­pen­dent Chevy rac­ers. Re­ac­tion to his re­port was un­der­whelm­ing, as his bosses con­tin­ued to feel it was some out­law rac­ing thing.

Me­dia spread the word about Day­tona, yet en­thu­si­asts dis­cov­ered that deal­er­ships were un­pre­pared to cater to them. Through the chain of man­agers and zones, word got back to the cen­tral of­fice, so Camp­bel­lEwald was forced to cap­i­tal­ize on this mar­ket­ing op­por­tu­nity. This time Wangers’ re­port re­ceived proper con­sid­er­a­tion, and by Fe­bru­ary 1955 Chevro­let had be­come the Hot One.

Pon­tiac

Wangers moved to MacManus, John & Adams in 1958 as an as­sis­tant ac­count ex­ec­u­tive. The fol­low­ing year he was given per­mis­sion to de­velop and test a trav­el­ing sem­i­nar for train­ing deal­er­ships in the world of high per­for­mance. Royal Pon­tiac in sub­ur­ban Detroit be­came the guinea pig for know­ing its way around an or­der form, stock­ing the right parts, and run­ning a dealer-spon­sored car at the drags—and so much more.

But with GM dou­bling down on a rac­ing ban in 1963, it seemed Pon­tiac’s in­vest­ment in rac­ing had all been for naught.

Thus the 1964 GTO. “Truth was we were tak­ing Pon­tiac per­for­mance off the race track, like the Cor­po­ra­tion wanted, and putting it on the street, like the Cor­po­ra­tion didn’t want,” wrote Wangers in his book Glory Days. The story has been told many times, but Wangers en­joyed a unique role as the un­of­fi­cial spokesman for Pon­tiac, a man with one hand on the pulse of the street, an­other on the pulse of Pon­tiac cour­tesy of Chief En­gi­neer John DeLorean.

Oldsmo­bile

As told in Hurst Equipped by Mark Fletcher and Richard Trues­dell, Hurst com­mis­sioned MJ&A (with Wangers, of course) to sell Pon­tiac on a big-inch su­per­car based on the 1968 Fire­bird. GM’s gen­eral man­ager claimed Fire­bird sales didn’t need help, so it was sug­gested to pay Oldsmo­bile a visit, as the Lans­ing com­pany was bit­ter it didn’t re­ceive an F-Body cousin. The re­sult was the 1968 Hurst/ Olds. Two years later, Wangers (now con­sult­ing for Hurst) pro­posed a brightly col­ored small­block H/O as com­peti­tor to the Ply­mouth Road Run­ner. Olds stole the idea and pro­duced the Ral­lye 350.

AMC

Wangers and Hurst’s Dave Lan­drith pre­sented AMC with an idea of bring­ing the 1964 GTO con­cept up to 1969 stan­dards, which evolved into the 1969 SC/Ram­bler. Now at Hurst, Wangers fol­lowed it up in 1970 with the Rebel Ma­chine.

Mopar

The 1970 Chrysler 300H was an­other Hurst cre­ation that re­ceived Wangers’ magic touch. Sev­eral years later, while run­ning Mo­tor­town with Lan­drith, they ap­proached Chrysler with the 1976 Vo­laré Road Run­ner and Aspen R/T. Wangers brought Mopar more suc­cess with the 1981 Charger 2.2.

Ford

Yes, even the Mus­tang re­ceived the Wangers’ touch when Mo­tor­town de­vel­oped the 1976 Co­bra II.

Other No­table Con­tri­bu­tions

Wangers helped form the cre­ation of Detroit Drag­way in 1959 and brought the NHRA to town to host the Na­tion­als.

He won the 1960 NHRA Top Stock Elim­i­na­tor ti­tle driv­ing a Royal-prepped Catalina.

Pon­tiac of­fered Hurst shifters as an over-the-counter op­tion for 1961 on Wangers’ urg­ing. Other man­u­fac­tur­ers fol­lowed suit.

But the Jim Wangers leg­end as we know it was dwarfed by the found­ing of Au­to­mo­tive Mar­ket­ing Con­sul­tants Inc. in 1981, which filled a la­tent need for cer­ti­fied USAC test­ing/com­par­isons for ad­ver­tis­ers.

Even when it seemed there was none, Wangers never for­got that horse­power and pas­sion ruled Detroit.

n Jim Wangers is ar­guably most fa­mous for his as­so­ci­a­tion with the GTO, but his in­flu­ence in the auto in­dus­try went much fur­ther.

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